Tokelau is one of the most isolated places on earth. Tokelau is a territory of New Zealand that consists of three tropical coral atolls in the South Pacific Ocean. The United Nations General Assembly designated Tokelau a Non-Self-Governing Territory.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the atolls of Tokelau — Atafu, Nukunonu, and Fakaofo — were settled about 1,000 years ago, probably by voyages from Samoa, the Cook Islands and Tuvalu. Oral history traces local traditions and genealogies back several hundred years. Inhabitants followed Polynesian mythology with the local god Tui Tokelau; and developed forms of music and art. The three atolls functioned largely independently while maintaining social and linguistic cohesion. Tokelauan society was governed by chiefly clans, and there were occasional inter-atoll skirmishes and wars as well as inter-marriage. Fakaofo, the "chiefly island," held some dominance over Atafu and Nukunonu. Life on the atolls was subsistence-based, with reliance on fish and coconut.
Commodore John Byron discovered Atafu on 24 June 1765 and named it "Duke of York's Island." Captain Edward Edwards, in knowledge of Byron's discovery, visited Atafu on 6 June 1791 in search of the Bounty mutineers. There were no permanent inhabitants, but houses contained canoes and fishing gear, suggesting the island was used as a temporary residence by fishing parties. On 25 January 1841, the United States Exploring Expedition visited Atafu and discovered a small population living on the island.
Missionaries preached Christianity in Tokelau from 1845 to the 1860s. French Catholic missionaries on Wallis Island and missionaries of the Protestant London Missionary Society in Samoa used native teachers to convert the Tokelauans. Atafu was converted to Protestantism by the London Missionary Society, Nukunonu was converted to Catholicism and Fakaofo was converted to both denominations. During this time, Polynesian immigrants and American, Scottish, French, Portuguese and German beachcombers settled, marrying local women and repopulating the atolls.
In 1877 the islands were included under the protection of Great Britain by an Order-in-council which claimed jurisdiction over all unclaimed Pacific Islands. By the Tokelau Act of 1948, sovereignty over Tokelau was transferred to New Zealand. However, the Tokelauans are drafting a constitution and developing institutions and patterns of self-government as Tokelau moves towards free association with New Zealand, similarly to Niue and the Cook Islands.
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